In February, a Chinese balloon floated over the US, prompting politicians on both sides of the aisle to claim Beijing was threatening Americans. The event led American officials to cancel high-level meetings with their Chinese diplomats. Seven months later, Gen. Mark Milley said the balloon never collected intelligence.
Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, told “CBS News Sunday Morning” the US intelligence community does not believe the craft collected intelligence but still maintained it was a “spy balloon.” America’s top general said, “The intelligence community, their assessment – and it’s a high-confidence assessment – [is] that there was no intelligence collection by that balloon.” Milley continued, “I would say it was a spy balloon that we know with a high degree of certainty got no intelligence, and didn’t transmit any intelligence back to China.”
In Early February, a large balloon was spotted in the northern US. The craft was immediately claimed to be a spy craft by American officials. Secretary of State Antony Blinken slammed Beijing’s decision to fly the balloon over the US as “both unacceptable and irresponsible.” America’s top diplomat then canceled a meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister.
On Sunday, Milley, who is retiring later this month, explained that the Chinese balloon ended up over the US due to unexpected weather. “Those winds are very high,” the general said. “The particular motor on that aircraft can’t go against those winds at that altitude.”
From the start, Beijing has contested Washington’s claims that the craft was intended for surveillance, insisting it was merely a weather balloon for scientific purposes. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Washington’s response to the balloon damaged bilateral relations. “This is a clear overreaction that seriously contravenes the spirit of international law and customary international practice,” he explained. “What the US did has had a grave impact on the efforts and progress made by China and the US in stabilizing bilateral relations.”
Still, politicians told Americans the balloon was a threat. Senator Lindsey Graham claimed Beijing was “up to no good.” “I don’t know crap about balloons, but I got common sense that if the Chinese got a balloon with three tractor trailers hitched to it, they’re up to no good,” the senator stated. “And why would you let them go to South Carolina? This makes no sense, it doesn’t pass the smell test, and this is dangerous.”
Democrat Sen. Jon Tester called the balloon “a clear threat.” While Democrat Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi “Indeed, this incident demonstrates that the CCP threat is not confined to distant shores — it is here at home and we must act to counter this threat.”
Earlier this year America's military defenses were put on notice against a Chinese balloon believed to be on an espionage mission. Gen. Mark Milley talks about what we've learned from an examination of the balloon's wreckage. https://t.co/mPOmaAgfBE pic.twitter.com/83rMjPV6Hd— CBS Sunday Morning 🌞 (@CBSSunday) September 17, 2023
Senator Ted Cruz described the balloon as a threat and attacked President Joe Biden for not shooting down the craft over the US. “He allowed a full week for the Chinese to conduct spying operations over the United States, over sensitive military installations, exposing not just photographs but the potential of intercepted communications.” He added, “[Shooting down the balloon] is absolutely what the president should have done. Unfortunately, he didn’t do that until a week after it entered US airspace.”
Biden ordered the military to shoot down the balloon after it had passed over the US and it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean. In the weeks after the Chinese craft crossed American skies, Biden ordered the military to shoot down three additional balloons. The Pentagon later admitted that all three craft were civilian-launched weather and hobby balloons.